13 Reasons Why Controversy


*The following article contains spoilers for the show 13 Reasons Why*


As many are already aware, Netflix recently released their own series titled “13 Reasons Why” based off of the 2007 Jay Asher novel (which, by the way, I have not read). The series follows the story of a girl named Hannah Baker who commits suicide. She leaves behind a box of cassette tapes which contain the various reasons for her decision to take her own life, and each of these reasons is explored in a separate episode. The show was released on March 31st (2017), and has since become the most tweeted about show on the internet. 13 Reasons exploded in popularity among teens and young adults, but has recently come under fire by schools and individuals who claim the show romanticizes depression/suicide, and is encouraging the behavior in teens.

To preface my opposition to this stance, I would like to say that I understand where school administrators and adults are coming from; the show does not do a great job of delving into the psyche of Hannah Baker. Rather, the show portrays Hannah’s reasons merely as a “blame game,” with each tape blaming another person or event for Hannah’s ultimate decision. And while these reasons all undoubtedly affected Hannah, the show neglects to show how these events affected Hannah’s mental health- how they contributed to a depression which lead her to commit suicide. Instead the show simply draws a line directly between an event (or person) of significance to Hannah, and her suicide.

I will also admit that there is one aspect of the show which, while it does not necessarily glorify suicide, does contribute some semblance of romanticism to the subject. This aspect is that of Clay Jensen’s “reason.” Upon listening to the eleventh side of the tapes Hannah left behind, Clay is finally made aware of his role in Hannah’s decision. During a previous scene it is conveyed that Clay was the biggest reason for Hannah’s suicide- why? Because he was afraid to love her. I take issue with with this “reason” mainly because, as is shown throughout the series, Hannah is abused and hurt much worse by other characters; Hannah has been raped and objectified and yet the show chooses to portray Clay Jensen as Hannah’s “biggest reason.”

This being said, though, I do not believe that the show romanticizes suicide. The best support for this opinion is the nature of Hannah Baker’s suicide scene. This scene was shown graphically and in-full not to glorify suicide but specifically to do the opposite- to show the true harshness of the action. Brian Yorkey, the creator of 13 Reasons, states that the scene was intended to “be painful to watch,” and painful it is; the camera does not pan away as Hannah presses a razor blade to her skin- a Peter Gabriel song does not muffle the sound of Hannah’s cries of pain. Yorkey continues on to say that this was done so that it would be made clear that “there is nothing… in any way… worthwhile about suicide.” 13 Reasons does not glorify suicide, instead the series shows it starkly and blatantly to convey its reality and severity.